UNESCO Sites in the Rhine Valley
The Rhine cuts a course through fairytale towns and glorious vineyards, world-famous mountains and serene pastoral landscape. UNESCO finds the most notable sites along its banks in Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, and Holland.
UNESCO World Heritage list includes the Messel Pit Fossil Site for the tremendous light it sheds on plants and animals of 57 to 36 million years ago. There are thousands of examples of plant, fish, bird, amphibian, mammal, and insect fossils, in amazing shapes and colors. Among the finds are over 30 full skeletons of the “pre-horse”, including remnants from their stomachs that tell us what they ate! That so many of the fossils are complete gives an amazing view on life after the dinosaurs but long before we humans showed up.
Why does a 1920’s house built in Utrecht, Holland, for a woman and her three children have a place on the World Heritage list? Because it embodies the spirit of De Stijl movement and influenced so many subsequent architects. The Rietveld Schröder House was commissioned by Ms Schröder and designed by the architect Gerrit Rietveld, thus the name. Inside, the conventional ground floor belies the surprise above: the top floor was a radical breakthrough in openness and flexibility, having only sliding but no fixed walls. The outside resembles a painting by Mondrian, also a De Stijl artist. Ms Schröder lived in the house for over 60 years, and it is now a very popular museum, so book ahead.Three gemsStrasbourg – Grande Ile, the capital of the forested, hilly, wine-loving Alsace region in France has a concentration of structures on its central island in the middle of the Rhine that make you think you’re on a movie set. There’s a lacy cathedral, several very old churches, sturdy medieval houses and alluring, cozy shops densely packed within an area that lets you experience the character of a medieval town and illustrates Strasbourg's history through 15th to 18th centuries.Would you ever guess that Europe’s longest historical shopping arcade is a 12th century World Heritage site?
The miracle of the Old City of Berne in Switzerland is that somehow, from its founding in the 12th century to the present, development and several waves of renovation have stayed on track, resulting in an absolute gem. The cathedral spires are thrilling and the Renaissance fountains are delightful. Of course, some would list Bern as a critically important site for the sole fact that it is the home of the beloved triangular Toblerone chocolate!A pinch of saltFor mountainous scenery worth its salt, you have to make the trip to the Hallstatt-Dachstein / Salzkammergut Cultural Landscape of Austria. The mountains plunging vertiginously into the deep lake and the well-preserved, picturesque town clinging to the cliffs create a beautiful setting to see a salt mining area that was first active 2,000 years BC.